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Young Child's Understanding of Death
Adults' Answers pg 3
Q: Hi I am writing to you for my cousin Nina. Last March her husband, who suffered from manic depression killed himself and left her with 2 small children, 5 and 7 years old. We are trying to find a peer support group for the children to join. Do you have any suggestions where to look? We are from Northern New Jersey. Any help would be appreciated. We saw your special on Nik and thought it was great, we even taped it so we could watch it again. Its is so a difficult topic, more power to you and your staff for tackling such an important issue.

A:   I am so sorry to learn about Nina's husband.  What a tragic loss for all of you, especially the children.  

We do not have listings of specific ground-based support groups; just the Internet.  But most hospices have or know of support groups for children.  I would suggest you look under hospice in the yellow pages and call any of them for referrals.

Thanks so much for your kind words about the show.  We are so glad to know that we had a part in helping you.

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Q:    My wife died during childbirth leaving me with a premature baby and two slightly older siblings. My middle child who is 5 is starting to behave poorly in school. My oldest is not exhibiting any signs of grief and has handled the situation well. The three year old is healthy and has few developmental problems associated with prematurity. I need reources of all types to assist me in helping my kids. PS my mother also died when I was very young (9 months) and I was the baby of the family--seven in total. So I have issues of my own but at least I have a basic understanding of what my children may be going through.

A:    I am so sad to learn of your wife's tragic and untimely death.  You certainly have your hands full while dealing with your own painful losses.  We will do our best to help you find the resources that can aid you all in healing.

First, you may wish to join a group for widowed people.  This is run at our parent site, GriefNet.   Just click on the Support Groups and you will find your way there.  It's a truism that when caring for children, one has to first make sure that the parents are well cared for.  In this group you will find many others who have lost a partner, a lot of them with children.

As for your children, I think we can also be helpful in finding them resources.  Your older child, and even your five year old, may find things at KIDSAID that catch their interest.  Kids of any age are welcome to join kids-to-kids
and the site has lots of great links.

Another resource for you is the Bookstore at GriefNet.  We are adding titles almost daily, so if you browse it from time to time, you are likely to find many things to help you.  And finally, if you reach a dead end, write me back.

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Q:  I am the mother of two.  I have a 13 month old who was only 9 months when we lost his big sister (3 yr. old) in an auto accident.  I want him To know his sissy who loved him so.  He knows her pictures-he sees us Grieving-I just don't know how to maintain a relationship between he and his sissy's memory since he is so young.  He will probably have no conscious memory of this beautiful girl.  Any help would be greatly appreciated.                 Thank you

A:   I am so sorry to learn about the death of your daughter.  What a tragic loss for your family.  And what a  wonderful mom you are to want to help him remember his sister and her love. 

We know that infants grieve, so certainly he knows his sister is gone.  Photos and, if you have them, videos of his sister will help keep her memory alive for him.  But since she died before your son had many language skills, his memory of her will be different than if she had died when he was two or three.

Your love for your daughter is what your son will know most.  He will learn from you how much she loved him, and how much you loved her.

Are you aware that we have support groups for bereaved parents at our parent site, GriefNet? 

Don't hesitate to write back if we can be of any further help.

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Q:      My 11 year old son is having a difficult time dealing with his grief following a friends death.  His friend  was killed while playing Russian roulette.  Our family is close to the family of the boy that died, my other two children, 14 & 10 seem to be doing fairly well.  However, my 11 yr. old, still cries everyday, seems to be obsessing over details, and is depressed. (experiencing loss of appetite, falling grades, inappropriate anger, sadness)  He talks of his friend frequently, and has a lot of questions concerning the circumstances surrounding his death.   I have been very honest with him, and am concerned that I am not helping him as much as I could, or that there may be more that I can do.  Please help, I am very concerned about him.

A:     I am sure your son is having a very difficult time dealing with this horrific death.  All of the symptoms you describe him having are what one would expect after such a terrible loss.  That does not mean, however, that this crisis will resolve itself unattended.  I would encourage you to get professional help for him immediately.  He is
having to deal with a death that even most adults would find excruciating, and he's only a child.

The type of help you seek may need to be two-fold.  Ideally a child psychiatrist who is experienced in bereavement counselling would be the place to go.  However, such a person may be difficult to find.  In that case I would look both for counselling and for a physical evaluation by an M.D.  Many of his reactions, such as loss of appetite and motivation, are symptoms of depression, and that is a physical illness, not an emotional one.  Depression warrants as much medical attention as, say strep throat.  It is fortunately easy to treat, though when it is accompanied by trauma, the trauma warrants psychological intervention.

Please don't hesitate to write me back if I can be of further help.

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Q:      Hello.  I'm hoping you can help me.  I am 29 years old and have a brother who is 43, and has Down's Syndrome.  We recently lost our father very suddenly.  My brother "R" often doesn't express himself when he's
upset, and much to my relief, he has cried over my father's passing.  It has been several weeks now and he seems to be quite depressed.  As he is not able to read, and won't let me read to him (being treated "like a grown up" is VERY important to him) - are there any books on tape available geared toward someone like "R" that is trying to cope with grief??  His education level is around 1st grade.    Do you have any suggestions on how to help him express his feelings? I've started out by reassuring him it's ok that he feels sad and that crying doesn't make him a "baby" (this is a HUGE concern of his).  I've also let him know that we can talk whenever (and if ever) he wants to.
After that, I backed off because I don't want to push too hard...I would appreciate any advice that you can offer.

A:     Although I don't know all the answers to your questions, this is an excellent topic for us all to learn more about.  I am not highly experienced in working with the retarded, I believe that many of the things that help children would help people like your brother.  I am going to offer my suggestions, and then those of some of my colleagues below.

Does your brother like to draw?  That is often a good way to express feelins, for people of any age.

When you ask for books on tape, are you looking for books at a 1st grade level?  Or would he be able to handle books written for higher ages? Because I can recommmend books, but then finding them on tape would take a little research, which you could easily do.

One thing you might do is to model talking about grief, by bringing up your own feelings of sadness at times you think are appropriate.  If he wishes to follow the conversation, then he will.  If not, then you can just let it drop.

With all of us, learning to deal with loss takes enormous repetition.  We go over and over and over it in our minds.  Certainly this will be just as true for your brother, if not more so.

One suggestion I have for you is to consider joining our support-group, adult-parents.  There you will not only get support for yourself, but you may well run into others who have retarded relatives and get some ideas there.

Suggestion from a colleague:
The New York State Office of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities (44 Holland Ave., Albany 12229)has materials available regarding bereavement resources for persons with developmental disabilities.

Also, articles in Journal of Pastoral Care (Vol XLI(1), 1987)"Journey into Understanding Mentally Retarded People's Experiences Around Death" and in Journal of Gerontological Social Work (Vol 13(#/4), 1989 "Group Work Experience With Mentally Retarded Adults on the Issues of Death and Dying."

Also a chapter in Doka, Living With Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve(Brunner/Mazel, 1998)on "Helping Individuals With Developmental Disabilities."

Here's another suggestion from a colleague:      I think there is an audio of "Freddie the Leaf" out there. It is appropriate to all ages, very simple, but profound. I can't remember who voices it, but I do remember they do an excellent job.  Amazon.com has the book in audio.

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Young Child's Understanding of Death


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